IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

The cost of stifling voices  

17th August, 2020 Editorial

Context: Judiciary and Freedom of Speech


  • Judicial initiative, often in response to public interest litigation, has led to many progressive decisions over the last two decades. These include the Supreme Court’s order that free meals should be provided for all schoolchildren in public primary schools.
  • Scrutinising the behavior of the legislative and executive arms of government did not lower the dignity associated with those offices or undermines democracy.
  • On the contrary, it improved their functioning. Moreover, such scrutiny relied on critical voices from the field. Social activists pointed to growing grain stocks with the Food Corporation of India, which could be used to eliminate child hunger.


Strengthening institutions

  • Courts exist to promote justice by adjudicating on disagreements. The judiciary relies on listening to testimonies and deciphering them to extract evidence. The many voices they hear are rarely non-partisan.
  • They are muffled, broken, acrimonious, vengeful, disingenuous, arrogant, self-righteous and many other things.
  • Yet judges know, better than anyone else, that good jurisprudence relies on listening to all of these and separating the wheat from the chaff.
  • If they were to restrict themselves to the cool and candid, the result would often be silence. Most of us do not speak when we are calm; we enjoy the feeling while it lasts.


Voice has the potential to strengthen institutions and help them adapt to a changing environment. Deliberation and debate are needed if we are to pool information, negotiate our differences and make better collective decisions. In a stifling voice, we risk the disengagement of those who are most invested in preserving our democratic institutions.